Don’t Mess with the NDIS
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is underway with launch sites trialling in various locations and further launch sites imminent. Many people with disabilities, their families,
and supporters are excited to be so close to a better world where people might finally have what they need, live with dignity, in less pain, as members of the community.
In recent times there have been suggestions that the Scheme might be overspending its targets or that people with disabilities might be getting more than they “deserve”. These suggestions aren’t
new, some doubters have always suspected that people want “gold plated service”; others simply can’t understand the full impact of disability on a person and those around them.
No one who is around anyone with disability talks like this, its others who don’t understand and who question the genuine need for support.
Some suggested solutions are: to cap packages, or maybe means test eligibility, or perhaps slow down the Scheme altogether until we know how it might operate.
None of these suggestions will work, and all will profoundly sabotage an NDIS that has been well thought out, has addressed the doubts, and which will work well if allowed to.
Every person with disability is different. Some people require substantial support, others need less. Some people need a large amount of equipment just to be able to get out of bed and shower;
other people require no specialist equipment at all. In short, capping packages will severely limit those people who do need substantial supports to live with dignity.
We cannot predict how the dice falls for any person and the few people who will need larger packages are balanced out by those who may only require some basics. This is why there is an understanding
of an average sized package, only a few people will have that average, most will fall under or over. That’s how averages work. It’s how the insurance system works and that’s what the NDIS is based on.
In short the economists have sorted this one out and built it in.
The NDIS is already capped. Only 10% of the disability population will be eligible for Tier 3 packages. All other people with disabilities, over 3.5 million Australians will receive necessary
bits and pieces under Tier 2; they won’t get an annual package because they don’t need it.
Disability can cost a lot, a real lot. Look at the size of the Tier 3 packages that some people will need and you start to get the idea. Imagine if you had to find $65,000 every year to get
the equipment and support that you need.
That’s “need” not “want”.
Disability isn’t discretionary. You can’t decide that something else is more important. You just have to spend what it takes or go without. Up until now many Australians with disabilities have
actually gone without. According to the
Australian Institute for Health and Welfare just about all the targeted Tier 3 people have been going without for years. Those than can get supports and equipment get less than half of what they need. Many don’t get even
close to that. That’s what the NDIS is for and why it’s so important. It’s embarrassing that it’s taken so long.
How would means testing work in practice?
Will means testing apply to only the individual, or would it also be applied to the family that they live with (household income)? Does this mean that a 35 year old living at home with their
parents would have their NDIS limited, or would find themselves ineligible for Tier 3 support, because their parents both work or own a house worth over $400,000 for example?
Perhaps means testing would mean that anyone on an income over $100,000 is unable to access Tier 3 packages. But what happens if that person actually has an annual cost of disability of $60,000?
People with disabilities often refer to the “cost of disability” and how it keeps them poor. There is a small cohort of people who do self-fund at present because all current supports and equipment
schemes ARE means tested. These few become trapped in public housing or stuck living with their parents because they never have a capacity to save or to become truly financially independent – despite working.
Means testing the NDIS will act as a barrier to employment. Why would you get a job for more money, or work harder, when it will result in your losing your vital supports or equipment? There
is no point going from a job paying $50,000pa to a job paying $60,000pa if the means test is set at $55,000. Why, because your cost of disability is large and losing access to the Scheme isn’t worth the extra income when your cost of disability is $40,000pa.
No, the NDIS must be universal and remain about disability not about income. We want to encourage people to participate not actively discourage them by putting significant barriers in place
to being employed.
Slowing the NDIS rollout
The Commission of Audit made the curious recommendation to slow down the rollout of the NDIS. Given that the
Productivity Commission identified that the NDIS will result in a major growth in GDP this seems strange.
Oh, and the Productivity Commission wasn’t expecting that, they were actually surprised by their own finding.
If the Australian economy is in such trouble then surely something that will substantially contribute to growth should be embraced with open arms. The NDIS
is that something. It’s on the same scale as building major infrastructure, or opening a big new mine. It will grow jobs, reduce dependence on welfare, and will ultimately create over 1% of GDP.
Perhaps the government should consider rolling it out faster to assist with the budget bottom line?
Don’t Mess with the NDIS
Many of the issues facing the NDIS today have been facing it since it was first envisaged. The Productivity Commission, various bureaucrats, politicians and the community have all raised concerns
about eligibility, sustainability and overall cost. Working on those concerns has resulted in the NDIS that is being rolled out today.
Sure it isn’t perfect but that’s why there is a trial aspect to the launch sites.
The Scheme has already been narrowed significantly by setting eligibility for Tier 3 packages at a population level of 10% of Australians with disabilities. Further limiting the Scheme will
only damage it. These suggestions risk making the NDIS a shadow of its intended self and in danger of becoming an echo of the old system we are trying to abandon.
Everyone wants this to work, we all want it to be sustainable, and for those who need it to get it. There certainly aren’t any people with disabilities or their families and supporters who
don’t want it to work. Seriously is anybody suggesting this? Are current doubters raising anything new? No.
Most people with disabilities aren’t getting what they need, many aren’t even close. The NDIS will take courage, enthusiasm, honesty, but most of all persistence.
What it doesn’t need is doubters talking it down. It doesn’t need to be revised at every turn before it’s even underway and through its first year. So much of the work and those difficult questions
have already been addressed.
What the NDIS needs is to get underway and to get on with it.
Christina Ryan is the General Manager of Advocacy for Inclusion and the Chair of the Disability Advocacy Network of Australia. She is also a person with disability who uses support.